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Prevent infection by updating your applications

These days, malware is as likely to target your media players and other programs as it is to look for holes in Windows.

You may have noticed Elinor Mills' story out of this week's RSA security conference on an F-Secure researcher recommending that PC users avoid the Adobe Reader PDF program because of its unpatched vulnerabilities. The story includes a link to's downloads of free Adobe Reader alternatives.

My favorite Adobe Reader alternative didn't make that list, however. Foxit Software has a reputation for patching its free Foxit Reader PDF program faster than Adobe plugs holes discovered in Reader.

It's starting to feel like keeping your software up-to-date is a full-time job. Last October, I described how to ensure that your copy of Windows is fully patched. That post includes a link to an article by Scott Dunn on troubleshooting Windows Update glitches. (Scroll down to "Tips for installing recalcitrant updates" about halfway through the article.)

Lots of PC experts recommend Secunia's free Online Software Inspector (OSI) and downloadable Personal Software Inspector application (free for home use). Unfortunately, the last time I used OSI, it kept listing my Flash player and Java installation as out-of-date when both were the latest releases. (See this post from last October on Michael Horowitz's Defensive Computing blog for more on problems with OSI.)

While popular programs such Mozilla's Firefox browser, Apple's QuickTime player, and Sun's Java runtime environment can be set to update automatically, the best way to ensure that your PC has the most recent versions of its software is to visit or the download page on the vendor's site and install any required updates manually. Here's where to find some of them:

Adobe Flash Player version
Apple QuickTime Player 7.6
Sun Java Runtime Environment version 6 update 13
Mozilla Firefox 3.0.9

The best way to update Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer, and other Windows components is via Microsoft's Windows Update service. Likewise, to keep your Office apps patched, browse to Microsoft Office Online's Downloads page and click the Office Update link in the left pane.